"Be truthful to yourself. This will be difficult, and you will feel like you are wasting your time, but believe me, the answers you find will be worthwhile."
Stanford University senior Grant Fisher, an nine-time All-American and 2017 NCAA Champion in the 5K who graduated from Grand Blanc High School in 2015 as a two-time Foot Locker Nationals winner and sub-4 minute miler, wrote an essay to his younger self for MileSplit.
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Dear 18 year-old Grant,
It's June 3rd of your senior year, and tomorrow you will run a PB in the mile.
You had some initial success in your life, and now everything seems to be clicking. You're running fast, are committed to join an incredible program next year, and have almost forgotten what it feels like to lose. You think that you know what it takes to be successful at the next level. Life is good.
But the result of your race tomorrow is not the part that matters. What's far more important is that afterwards, you will decide that you have things figured out. I mean, you've proven yourself over and over--of course you know what you're doing. People are telling you that you're the man. It feels great. There is nothing left to learn, right?
Unfortunately, as you move ahead in life, this sentiment will significantly stall your growth both as a person and as an athlete.
You will think that you be able to ride the wave of your talent into college, that PBs, individual wins and team championships will come without much critical thinking on your end. You will think that the things that made you successful in high school will make you successful at the next level, that you won't have to change a thing! When you watch your competitors and teammates constantly evolve their mental game, sleeping habits, eating habits, and attention to detail, you will think nothing of it. Because what worked in the past is still working, right? Life is good.
But somewhere during your junior year at Stanford, three years from now, you will plateau and won't realize it.
You will be forced to take a step back and have an honest conversation with yourself. Do you do this just because it comes easy and you are good at it, or is there something else that drives you? What is it that you really want to do? Are your actions getting you closer to this?
In that time following your belief that there was nothing left to learn, your competition will grow at a faster rate than you. You will spend the better half of your junior year in college wandering and complacent. And for the first time in your life, you will not be able to rely on your talent to get better.
Those others guys you raced over this span learned this lesson years ago. While you were staying up late, content that your work on the track meant your actions outside of practice had no repercussions, they were in bed, properly fueled physically, and mentally ready to beat you.
You will assume that after each year in your life things will get easier, that each year you will get older, smarter, and stronger. It's only logical.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. It only gets harder. The competition is constantly evolving. New guys come in, young guys step up, everyone wants to beat you.
Years of success will mask the fact that you lack purpose. You will be forced to take a step back and have an honest conversation with yourself. Do you do this just because it comes easy and you are good at it, or is there something else that drives you? What is it that you really want to do? Are your actions getting you closer to this?
Be truthful to yourself. This will be difficult, and you will feel like you are wasting your time, but believe me, the answers you find will be worthwhile.
I'm not telling you this to make your future seem overly dramatic or to freak you out. I don't want you to change a thing. You must learn these lessons the hard way. The confusion, doubt, and self-questioning will be necessary for you to understand.
Everyone walks a unique path, and yours has been smooth for an abnormally long time. So when the turbulence begins, I want you to remember something--you are surrounded by great people. There will be times when you will be afraid of what the future holds. Sometimes you will try to convince yourself that saying the right things is the same as doing the right things. There will be moments where you will want to settle for less than what you had hoped. In times like these, I want you to trust the people around you. Reach out. They can often see the big picture more clearly than you can. Let them remind you of the joy that running brings you. When your head is clouded with doubt or fear, find a close friend's perspective. Don't forget the reason why you chose Stanford.
There's a lot to look forward to over these next four years. You will meet some of your best friends, be challenged in school, and learn more about yourself than ever before. Your dreams and goals are important, but there's no need to have everything figured out. You'll learn that there are many things far more fulfilling and meaningful than your own athletic results. And, at the end of the day, you must remember it's just running. Don't take yourself too seriously.
When you're a bit older and reflect upon your time in college, you'll remember an odd assortment of details. Some memories will be of significant events in your life, while others will seem so unimportant that you will wonder why they happened to stick in your mind. Remember to hold on to the seemingly insignificant memories, like talking with friends for hours after dinner in Stern, the quick four races of Mario Kart that always turned into twelve, that one time they had karaoke in CoHo, going to brunch at Alice's and discovering that coffee cake doesn't actually taste like coffee, or attempting to raft on Lake Lag during the only two weeks that it actually had water in it. While the lessons you learn in university will shape you as a person, the small moments of bonding will be the ones that create lasting friendships. It's the little things that will make you smile years later.
There is much for you to learn, and there always will be. Look for ways to grow as an athlete and as a person. Remember to invest in others.
Enjoy the little things. And don't worry man, life is good.
Now get back to that mile, and cherish a huge PB.
Stanford University Senior
9x All-American and 2017 NCAA Champ in the 5K